By Charles Randall
Groundsmen do Aigburth proud in Lancashire's title year
THE news last week that Matt Merchant and Terry Glover have been named jointly by the ECB as runners-up for groundsmen of the year in the outground section of the first class awards is a welcome boost for club cricket and for Aigburth CC in particular.
The Liverpool club responded to a formidable challenge when Lancashire transferred the bulk of their LV County Championship fixtures for 2011 away from Old Trafford during redevelopment work. No fewer than five four-day games were scheduled for Aigburth, a tall order for any club. Yet Merchant and Glover's pitches were ranked second in the umpire ratings only to Cheltenham College, a completely different set-up with strips dedicated to far less cricket.
The fact that Lancashire won the championship for the first time since their joint success in 1950 added to a sweet summer for Merchant, head groundsman, and Glover, dedication for 22 years. They received their ECB awards last week alongside seasoned professionals such as Andy Fogarty, groundsman of the year for his work at Headingley Carnegie.
Fogerty won the coveted four-day category, with David Measor (Emirates Durham ICG) and Steve Birks (Trent Bridge) sharing the runner-up prize. Birks won the one-day category, with Fogarty as runner-up.
Ross Spry (Cheltenham College) was the man who pipped the Aigburth pair. Will Relf (Loughborough University) was the winner for pitches at MCC Universities, with John Moden (Fenner's) the runner-up.
A diminishing number of club venues remain on the championship rosta. Aigburth, Blackpool, Tunbridge Wells, Scarborough, Southgate, Uxbridge, Guildford, Chesterfield, Colchester, Colwyn Bay and Swansea spring to mind, along with outgrounds such as Oakham College, Whitgift School, Cheltenham College and Arundel Castle.
Groundsmen featured in the NatWest Outstanding Service to Cricket awards, known as the OSCAs, that happy occasion when the ECB honour volunteers in club cricket. England cricketers, past and present, turned out in force for the event at Lord's in October, including James Anderson (Burnley CC) and Michael Vaughan (Sheffield Collegiate CC).
More than 350 people gathered in the Nursery Pavilion at Lord's and saw a lifetime achievement award presented to Richard Fowkes for his groundsman work at Kegworth CC in Leicestershire and, at the other end of the age scale, to schoolboy George Hawbrook, head groundsman at Stone CC in Staffordshire.
Fowkes has been Kegworth's groundsman for 30 years, helping make their pitch one of the best in Leicestershire league cricket. A former player, he also umpires at county Premier League level and has been involved with the club for more than 50 years in a variety of different roles.
Hawbrook, 17, picked up the young volunteer award for his work at Stone. A member of the club’s committee, he has gained his UKCC Level One coaching qualification and also manages one of the club’s junior sides in addition to his ground duties.
The NatWest CricketForce award was presented by Vaughan to Patricia Brown and Karen Shead for their joint efforts in improving the facilities and ground at Notts & Arnold Amateurs CC in Nottinghamshire. Both were highly praised by the judges for their drive and enthusiasm in enlisting help and contributions from local businesses and volunteers.
Christopher Whitehouse was a worthy winner of the league and boards award. He chaired the formation of the North East and Central Surrey Colts League in 1984 and over 17 years expanded participation of colts from under-8 to under-16 in league competition, an estimated 2,000 players in 150 teams from 23 clubs. In 1995 he introduced an annual handbook until 2010 when a website was established.
A special award for work in disability cricket was also presented to the Cricket Federation for People with Disabilities. This award was made in honour of Dick and Fred Wildgoose, from Oswestry in Shropshire, for their pioneering work in developing opportunities for people with different types of physical and learning disability to play the game.
2011 NatWest OSCAs winners
Behind the Scenes: Keith Gray (Yorkshire)
Building Partnerships: Taj Butt (Yorkshire)